Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Trump makes a deal

Why would the most transactional president ever extend mercy to Rod Blagojevich, a corrupt Democrat who deserved more than the 14 years he received? And why did the Dem-hating Fox News spend so much time and effort paving the way for this commutation?

The answer is obvious.

For more than a decade, we've heard rumors that Blago and Obama worked together on various dirty deals A few of you may recall the strange case of Tony Rezko, an Obama fundraiser convicted of money laundering in 2008. When prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald publicly urged Rezko to lessen his sentence by ratting out more important players, many understood that Fitz was referring to Obama. Rahm Emmanuel once bragged that Blago's campaigns (which were, of course, corrupt) were informally headed by Emmanuel and Obama.

Blago will probably sing like a bird. Even if his song is filled with falsehoods, it will be widely heard during this election year.

Needless to say, the corruptions attributed to Obama are laughably insignificant when compared to Trump's filth. But what of it? The Republicans want the country talking about ancient Dem dirt, not Trump's outrageous acts of criminality. Widespread cynicism works to Trump's advantage. He wants the average voter to think: "They're all crooks, so I might as as well vote for Trump. At least the economy is doing well."

Obama is currently the most admired American pubic figure, and Trump wants to dethrone him. If Blago does a good enough job of smearing Obama, the former president may not even be able to show his face at the convention.

Trump also pardoned former NY Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik, who served a four year sentence (starting in 2010) for tax fraud and lying to federal agents. Lately, Kerik -- a Rudy Giuliani crony -- has been showing up on Fox News to chew out Michael Bloomberg. Trump probably granted this pardon as a favor to Rudy. Still, don't be surprised if you see Kerik level a brand-new smear against Bloomberg.

What charge could Kerik bring against him? I can't imagine. Will the charge have a factual basis? I dunno. Does it matter?

The pardon of Michael Milken (who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and racketeering charges in 1990s, and completed his sentence quite a few years ago) is also of no small interest. Once again, Rudy may be the key player here. Even though Giuliani led the prosecution, he has been angling for a pardon for years.

Milken has always been a hero to the libertarians. In the 1990s, Daniel Fischel ("a Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago" -- and you know what that means) produced a book titled Payback: Conspiracy to Destroy Michael Milken and His Financial Revolution, described thus:
Charges that the Wall Street trader and others were wrongfully prosecuted by a nervous corporate establishment
From a reader review:
It peels back the curtain that protects the reputation of federal prosecutors who deserve no curtain to hide what they really did. (Disclosure: I had a role in providing post-conviction legal advice to Milken.)
The rehabilitation of Milken could play into Trump's war against the New York justice system.

This L.A. Times piece offers a useful refresher course on Milken:
Through his pioneering use of junk bonds, Milken was credited with rescuing companies that were running low on cash or never had much to start. But critics accused him of enabling corporate raiders to plunder and gut otherwise viable corporations, laying off workers by the thousands and draining the savings of retirees.
If you're interested in Milken's connections to the gonzo libertarians, check out this rapturous love-letter written by the vile Murray Rothbard, whom I consider the key figure in the great libertarianism-to-fascism shift. His piece, written in 1989, includes a segment which now seems quite ironic.

First, a bit of background: When the Milken scandal broke, the public learned that Drexel had paid him $550 million a year. Although the specific charges against Milken befuddled most Americans (who have a hard time wrapping their heads around financial skullduggery), that absurdly-high figure shocked a lot of people. Some interesting public figures weighed in...
More interesting were billionaires Trump and Rockefeller. Speaking from his own lofty financial perch, Donald Trump unctuously declared, of Milken's salary, "you can be happy on a lot less money," going on to express his "amazement" that his former employers, the Wall Street firm of Drexel Burnham Lambert "would allow someone to benefit that greatly." Well, it should be easy enough to clear up Mr. Trump's alleged befuddlement. We could use economic jargon and say that the payment was justified by Mr. Milken's "marginal value product" to the firm, or simply say that Milken was clearly worth it, otherwise Drexel Burnham would not have happily continued the arrangement from 1975 until this year.

In fact, Mr. Milken was worth it because he has been an extraordinarily creative financial innovator.
If you've seen the film Wall Street -- which was inspired by Milken -- you'll have some idea as to what sort of innovations we're talking about.

Clearly, Trump has changed his tune. As for Rothbard -- well. We really have to talk about that guy one of these days.


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